• Toyota and its brands Scion and Lexus clinched the top three spots.
  • Hybrid Toyota Prius C earned the top ranking overall.
  • Mazda, Subaru, Honda and Acura rounded out the top seven positions.

Japanese automotive brands swept the top seven positions in the latest Consumer Reports reliability study, with Toyota and its subsidaries Lexus and Scion taking the top three spots.

Consumer Reports, the world's largest independent product-testing organization, compiles data about "serious problems" from its subscribers to predict reliability on a range of models. This year's study looked at actual owners' experiences with more than 1.2 million new vehicles.

Toyota's stellar performance was led by the 2012 Toyota Prius C, which scored higher than any other vehicle in the study. All three of Toyota's other hybrid Prius models--the Prius V, Prius Plug-In and the standard hatchback Prius--scored above average too. These high ratings could help to dispel drivers' doubts about the dependability of hybrids.

Of the 27 Toyota vehicles included in the report, 16 earned the highest rating.

Other Japanese automakers also ranked at the top. Behind the trio of Toyota brands are Mazda, Subaru, Honda and Acura. Mazda's new 2013 CX-5 helped it to earn a fourth place finish. An all-new model helped improve Subaru's finish in the reliability study too. The 2012 Impreza earned a top rating while every other model in the automaker's lineup also finished above average. Honda and its luxury brand Acura typically finish near the top too, with all Honda models ranking at least average for reliability.

Among European brands, Audi scored relatively highly, with six of seven models posting scores of average or better. Among domestic automakers, Cadillac scored highest. Its best ranked model, the CTS Coupe, helped the brand move up 14 places over last year's results. Chevrolet, another GM brand, improved its standings thanks in part to the plug-in hybrid Volt.

Although the top seven brands in the 2012 Consumer Reports reliability study hail from Japan, new-car shoppers need not buy an import for good reliability. In fact, most Japanese automakers build some vehicles here in the United States.

Furthermore, reliability reports like the latest one from Consumer Reports are not the only criteria new-car shoppers use when selecting the vehicle that's best for them. The Toyota Prius c may be highly rated, but a subcompact hatchback will not suit the needs of all drivers. Plus, these results rank vehicles relative to other new vehicles. Overall, many new cars are more dependable and well-built than ever. Choosing a vehicle that's functional, comfortable, safe, efficient and attractive can be just as important as finding one that will present the fewest problems.

What it means to you: Reliability is often among the criteria that new-car shoppers use to find a vehicle that's well-suited to their needs. The Consumer Reports study ranks brands' and models' reliability relative to the competition.

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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