• Study reveals models with fewest problems during first 90 days of ownership.
  • A third of the categories are topped by a domestic U.S. automaker.
  • American brands lead in mid-size and large vehicle categories.

It's natural for Americans to feel pride on Independence Day. Each Fourth of July reminds us that, despite our diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds in this melting pot of a nation, we are citizens of a very special and highly capable country. Although our industrial prowess has seen ups and downs, we still have a thriving capacity to design and produce some of the best products in the world, including some truly excellent automobiles. That pride is borne out by this year's J.D. Power Initial Quality Study.

J.D. Power rates vehicles on a variety of criteria, including quality, dependability, performance and design. Seven domestic models topped J.D. Power's current Initial Quality Study, which examines problems reported by owners within the first 90 days of new-vehicle ownership. Scores are determined by problems that caused a complete breakdown or malfunction, or by features that worked as designed, but are difficult to use or understand.

Domestic vehicles were highest rated among several mid-size and large-vehicle classes. The following winners are the domestic vehicles that ranked above the competition in their respective classes.

2012 Ford Taurus
Taking top honors in the large-car category, the Taurus is one of three Ford models to top J.D. Power's Initial Quality list. Ford has more winners than any other domestic brand, and only Lexus matches Ford's number of models that are top rated in their respective categories. Redesigned in 2010, the Taurus is a spacious five-passenger sedan with features and technology aimed at safety and comfort. These include Ford's SYNC voice-activated information and entertainment system and available adaptive cruise control and collision intervention. The 2012 Taurus is powered by a 3.5-liter V6, while the newer 2013 model can be specified with a turbocharged EcoBoost 2.0-liter rated at 31 mpg highway. For the performance-minded buyer, the 3.5-liter turbocharged Taurus SHO delivers a robust 365 horsepower.

2012 Ford Expedition
Ford's mammoth body-on-frame Expedition SUV captured the title among large crossovers and SUVs, beating out domestic competitors like the GMC Yukon and the Chevrolet Tahoe. Few vehicles can accommodate eight passengers and tow up to 9,200 pounds, but the Expedition is up to the task. It's powered by a 5.4-liter V8 that's good for 310 hp and 365 lb-ft of torque and is available in two- or four-wheel drive, allowing it to tow with ease on a variety of surfaces. The extended Expedition EL made J.D. Power's list, too. It offers more space than the standard-length Expedition. The base 2012 Expedition XL starts at $37,300. The luxurious King Ranch edition offers features like 20-inch wheels and rear-seat entertainment.

2012 GMC Sierra
What's more American than a pickup truck? Versatile vehicles like the GMC Sierra-top rated among large pickups in the Initial Quality Study-offer more capabilities than ever. The Sierra Work Truck is an affordable partner for any job and now comes standard with cruise control, perfect for America's vast open roads. Four-door and luxury versions, meanwhile, are a great alternative to a large sedan or SUV. The Sierra can be specified in 4x2 or 4x4 configurations, and several packages enhance towing capabilities. For those seeking the comfort of a luxury vehicle in a rugged package, GMC's Denali trim package includes heated and cooled front seats.

2012 Cadillac Escalade
Even though Americans' automotive tastes change along with the latest fuel prices, our overall fondness for big vehicles remains relatively consistent. Accordingly, the Cadillac Escalade is a favorite, and it's also top rated by J.D. Power among large premium crossovers and SUVs. The Escalade is all about offering more: more power, more high-tech equipment and more style. Under the hood is a 403-hp 6.2-liter V8 connected to a six-speed automatic transmission. A high-tech Magnetic Ride Control suspension handles the bumps while delivering surprising body control. Exterior details like HID headlights, LED taillights and plenty of chrome accents make the Escalade stand out. Inside, three rows of leather seating accommodate passengers, and available details like heated and cooled cupholders pamper them. Whether in base or top-of-the-line Platinum trim, the Cadillac Escalade is tough to beat for oversize luxury and style.

2012 Chevrolet Malibu
The 2012 Malibu beat some tough competition like the Honda Accord and the Ford Fusion to top the mid-size sedan category in J.D. Power's Initial Quality Study. And with a completely redesigned 2013 Malibu on the way, now may be a perfect time to get a great deal on the outgoing model. The Malibu offers excellent value and some surprising standard equipment. The base LS starts at $22,110 and includes cruise control, a six-speaker audio system with satellite radio, OnStar and remote keyless entry. The Malibu is a fuel-efficient choice, too. With a 2.4-liter engine and six-speed transmission, it's rated at 33 mpg highway. For those seeking more comfort, the range-topping Malibu LTZ comes with leather interior, automatic climate control and a power sunroof.

2012 Buick Enclave
The Enclave was J.D. Power's top-rated mid-size crossover or SUV. While the other three-row vehicles here are true trucks, the Buick Enclave is a crossover vehicle with unibody construction. That gives the Enclave a more carlike ride and handling. And although it falls into the mid-size category, this is one spacious Buick. It offers room for eight and 24.1 cubic feet of cargo space, or a vast 115.9 cubic feet with the second and third rows folded. The Enclave is available in front-wheel drive for better fuel economy-24 mpg highway-or all-wheel drive for greater traction in slippery conditions. The base Enclave is well equipped, with three-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth and a power rear liftgate. The top-of-the-line Enclave Premium includes leather interior, Bose audio and heated and cooled front seats.

2012 Ford Mustang
It's an American icon with a nearly 50-year history. It has 300 hp on tap, yet it's rated at 31 mpg on the highway. And it's J.D. Power's winner for best initial quality among mid-size sporty cars. The 2012 Mustang is the whole package, with great style and performance paired with practicality and affordability. The base 2012 Mustang starts at $22,310 and offers those excellent credentials, but a range of choices is available for buyers willing to up the ante. The Mustang Convertible offers wind-in-your-hair excitement, and the Mustang GT swaps a V8 for the base V6 and cranks up the output to a robust 412 hp. For those looking for even more, there are the Boss 302 and the Shelby GT500. But when it comes to bang for your buck, the base Mustang is hard to beat.

These seven category winners in J.D. Power's Initial Quality Study prove that you need not sacrifice to buy American, especially if you consider bigger to be better. And why think small when so many domestic models offer so much at such a great value? Whether you need the space to carry more passengers and cargo or just want to enjoy a sporty drive with a few friends, these winning vehicles deliver and offer world-class quality, too. So now you have seven more reasons to feel pride this Independence Day.

What it means to you: Feeling some American pride? Check out the domestic models that topped J.D. Power's Initial Quality Study to find the high-quality American vehicle that best suits your needs.

author photo

Nick Palermo is an automotive writer and lifelong car nut. He follows new and late-model used vehicles for AutoTrader.com, writes about vintage cars for Hemmings Classic Wheels and blogs on all things automotive at LivingVroom. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and twins.

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