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Published: Friday, 6/29/2007

Honda tops 4 segments in study; Toledo-built SUVs rank below average

FROM BLADE STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

DETROIT - Four Honda models topped the rankings for their vehicle segments in an annual J.D. Power and Associates customer satisfaction survey of U.S. drivers released yesterday.

Honda Motor Co. captured more top spots than other automaker. Its newly redesigned CR-V small crossover sport-utility vehicle, Ridgeline truck, and Odyssey minivan held sole leads in their segments, and its Fit tied with Toyota Motor Corp.'s Yaris for top subcompact.

The survey focuses on the first 90 days of vehicle ownership.

The three Toledo-built vehicles - Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Liberty, and Dodge Nitro - did not fare well in the study. Each Chrysler brand ranked below average, with the Liberty finishing last among compact SUVs.

Mercedes-Benz and BMW AG each had three models atop premium segments. Mercedes-Benz was tops with its midsize E-Class and large S-class cars, and its GL-Class tied for a top spot with General Motors Corp.'s Cadillac Escalade EXT in a segment that includes large luxury SUVs and crossovers.

BMW's 3 Series and 6 Series cars and X5 midsize crossover SUV all received top rankings.

GM, Ford Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co., and Volkswagen AG each had two vehicles atop the rankings, which were divided into 19 segments. About 91,000 people were surveyed.

"Scores tend to be highest for models when they are first introduced," Neal Oddes, J.D. Power's director of product research and analysis, said in a statement. "It's essential for manufacturers to get new-vehicle launches right." A J.D. Power analyst, Joe Ivers, said the redesign of Toledo's Jeep Liberty, to be in production in less than three weeks, should fix problems perceived by customers.

The Toled-built Dodge Nitro ranked 15th and the Jeep Wrangler 16th in their segment in the study. The Nitro scored above average for compact SUVs in exterior styling, but did not fare as well in such areas as seats, audio system, storage, and driver visibility.

Despite the Wrangler's "unique niche," it, too, ranked below average in its segment, Mr. Ivers said. The vehicle "did pretty well on exterior ratings and also for its stereo system, but the big negatives were storage-space issues, [lack of] rapid acceleration, and harshness of the ride," he said.

Overall in the annual study, Porsche AG was the highest-ranking nameplate for a third consecutive year. The most improved nameplate was Toyota's youth-focused Scion. BMW was the No. 2 overall nameplate, followed by DaimlerChrysler AG's Mercedes-Benz, Ford's Jaguar, and Toyota's Lexus - all luxury brands.

J.D. Power said the survey was good news for the Detroit Three automakers. It said GM had 11 models in the top three in their segments, and Ford had four - including the Edge crossover atop its segment. DaimlerChrysler had seven, but the Dodge Charger was Chrysler Group's sole vehicle in a top three.

Toyota, including the Toyota, Lexus, and Scion brands, had eight models in the top three by segment.

The survey, which is in its 12th year, measures "owner delight with the design, content, layout, and performance of their new vehicles," J.D. Power said.



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