2012's top cars: Something for everyone

Tara Baukus MelloBuying a new car is an exciting experience, but it also can be a bit nerve-racking because you're spending thousands of dollars on an unknown, complicated machine filled with technology. While today's car quality continues to rise, according to J.D. Power and Associates' 2012 U.S. Initial Quality Study, it is still possible to find yourself visiting the dealer for repairs more frequently than you'd like. Here's how to minimize the hassle.

Ask for help with the high-tech gadgetry. The owners interviewed in the J.D. Power 2012 Initial Quality Study increasingly have reported problems with audio, entertainment and navigation systems -- an 8 percent increase from 2011 and up 45 percent since 2006. Other categories have improved by 24 percent on average. This area is the single most common complaint among the owners surveyed.

These functions don't necessarily have problems. Often, the systems are not intuitive, and the owners can't get them to work. Fortunately, this problem can be eliminated with a little effort. The sales staff at most dealerships have received extensive training on using this technology and should be able to help you do things like set up your cellphone for hands-free use and program the audio and navigation systems to your preferences. Tell the dealership you want to schedule some time with their best tech-savvy staff member when you take delivery of the car. Also, ask if the manufacturer offers instructional videos and where to find them. Many do have videos on their consumer websites, but they're sometimes hard to find.

Select a brand with proven quality. With car quality improving overall, it's getting even easier to buy a car from a brand that has proven quality. The 2012 Initial Quality Study identified 15 brands with quality ratings above the industry average, up from 10 brands in 2011. Lexus was the top-rated brand, followed by Jaguar and Porsche (tied); Cadillac; Honda; Acura and Infiniti (tied); Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Mazda (tied); GMC, Nissan and Ram (tied); and Chevrolet.

Choose a car with a high quality rating. Individual car quality isn't limited to those specific brands. Many cars with the highest quality rating in the study came from brands below the industry average overall. The Initial Quality Study identified cars with top quality ratings at every price point and every body style. By choosing one of these cars, you are greatly reducing the likelihood of problems that will result in visits to the dealer. The highest ranked cars, trucks and SUVs in the J.D. Power study were:

Highest ranked cars for 2012

Buick EnclaveMidsize crossover/SUV
Cadillac EscaladeLarge premium crossover/SUV
Chevrolet MalibuMidsize car
Ford ExpeditionLarge crossover/SUV
Ford MustangMidsize sporty car
Ford TaurusLarge car
GMC Sierra LDLarge pickup
Honda CR-VCompact crossover/SUV
Infiniti EX-SeriesEntry premium crossover/SUV
Infiniti M-SeriesMidsize premium car
Kia SoulCompact multipurpose vehicle
Lexus ES 350Entry premium car
Lexus LSLarge premium car
Lexus RXMidsize premium crossover/SUV
Mazda MX-5 MiataCompact sporty car
Nissan FrontierMidsize pickup
Nissan QuestMinivan
Porsche 911Premium sports car
Toyota CorollaCompact car
Toyota YarisSubcompact car
Volvo C70Premium sporty car

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If you have a car question, email it to us at Driving for Dollars. Read more Driving for Dollars columns and Bankrate auto stories. Follow her on Facebook here or on Twitter @SheDrives.

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