• Best domestics in decades
  • Expert consensus on quality
  • Strong sales of American cars

When it comes to cars, some folks always buy American. Names like Toyota and Hyundai never come up on their test-drive lists, although models from both of those manufacturers are built right here in the United States. Other drivers have excluded brands from the Big Three -- Ford, GM and Chrysler -- for years, sticking instead to foreign brands. And of course, some other drivers are car shopping for the very first time and have few preconceived ideas about whether foreign or domestic cars are the better buy.

The truth is that no one can say definitively that one is better than the other. Experts do, however, agree on huge improvements in the quality and appeal of vehicles from domestic brands. For that reason, new-car shoppers shouldn't dismiss Detroit altogether.

Poor quality was largely behind a slide in consumer confidence that lasted decades and left each of the Big Three on the verge of financial ruin a few years ago. Ford, GM and Chrysler have each recovered well, thanks to the quality of their products and, consequently, strong sales. In the first half of 2013, domestic automakers collectively gained market share for the first time in 20 years.

Experts largely agree that the turnaround is a result of better vehicles. Strategic Vision's recent Best 2013 Total Quality study had more domestics than imports on the list for the first time in more than a decade. Alexander Edwards, Strategic Vision's president, says the quality of vehicles from import brands remains high, but that American models are keeping the competition vigorous.

"Domestics are running in the tight race also," Edwards said in a press release. "It's now forcing all manufacturers to build the most superior, innovative and holistically quality vehicles possible to gain the hearts and minds of the customer."

Consumer Reports echoed the positive sentiment about domestic brands in its recent rating of the 2014 Chevrolet Impala. It's the publication's top-ranked sedan, the first American car in 20 years to achieve the honor. The Impala also ranks third among all vehicles Consumer Reports has tested.

The business of automobile manufacturing is increasingly global, blurring the lines between foreign and domestic vehicles. That's generally good for prices and competition. It also means drivers depend less on a vehicle's country of origin when car shopping. Without patriotism bringing customers to Big Three showrooms, these U.S. automakers have achieved new success the old-fashioned way: building cars that outshine the competition, regardless of origin.

What it means to you: Don't buy American just for love of country. But don't dismiss Detroit without driving some of its highly rated new models, either.

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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