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2016 Kia Soul

J.D. Power: Kia Leads the Pack in Initial Quality Study

Auto shoppers on a budget – and that’s most of us – may sometimes feel a little jealous when we see a fancy luxury car drive by, but remember: owning a premium vehicle can come with an unexpected number of problems. In fact, according to the J.D. Power 2016 U.S. Initial Quality Study (IQS), premium brands had slightly more problems than mainstream makes.

That’s a key outcome of this year’s study, which seeks to measure vehicle quality during the first 90 days after a new car is purchased or leased. To do so, J.D. Power experts pored over survey responses from more than 80,000 consumers, with each individual providing feedback across more than 230 questions. The results are tallied by “problems per 100 vehicles,” and for 2016, for the first time in a decade, the non-premium “PP100” average was lower than that for the premium brands.

Now, the difference was relatively small, as the average was 104 and 108 PP100 for mainstream and premium brands, respectively. But the overall impact extended right to the top of the industry.

Kia Completes its Rise to IQS Leadership

You read that right. The No. 1 name in the 2016 IQS, with the lowest number of reported problems per hundred vehicles, is Kia. The South Korean brand became the first non-luxury make to lead the IQS in 27 years. Which shouldn’t be that much of a surprise if you’ve been following the J.D. Power news over the past five years. Although Kia’s IQS score was below the industry average in 2012, it jumped up to 11th in the industry the following year and had broken into the top 10 by 2014. By last year, Kia had leapfrogged to the second spot overall, trailing only Porsche. Kia then took over this year in a very close race, lowering its PP100 to 83; Porsche was at 84 PP100.

Of course, Kia also saw strong showings from some of its individual vehicles, including the Soul and Sportage. The 2016 Kia Soul not only led the compact multi-purpose vehicle segment, it was the only one with a PP100 that was better than the industry average. As for the 2016 Kia Sportage, it won the increasingly popular small SUV category. Also earning top-three finishes for Kia in the 2016 IQS were the 2016 Sorento (second among midsize SUVs), Forte (second among compacts and ahead of popular choices like the Honda Civic) and Rio (No. 3 in the small car category).

It’s further worth noting that the Hyundai brand – which is owned by the same parent company as Kia – has seen a similar upward trajectory in IQS ratings. Hyundai, too, was below the industry average in 2012 and has since finished 10th, fourth, fourth and, this year, in third place overall.

IQS Yields Strong Results for U.S. Automakers

Despite Kia’s impressive run, foreign automakers as a whole found themselves behind the U.S. brands for the first time since 2010, and for only the second time in the 30-year history of the IQS. Again, the span between the groups was fairly small, with U.S. brands rated at 103 PP100 and all others averaged at 106 PP100. Yet the so-called domestic automakers did improve their IQS results at a much faster rate than the imports. General Motors, Ford Motor Company and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) together lowered their PP100 results by 10 percent as compared to 2015, which is twice as fast as the other brands.

GM also led in the industry in terms of individual vehicle awards, as seven vehicles, including five from Chevrolet, finished in the top three of their segments. Some of GM’s best efforts were in the full-size pickup categories, where the Chevy Silverado beat out the Ford F-150 in both light and heavy-duty configurations. GM also performed well among compact sport cars, where the brand-new Buick Cascada set the pace.

Meanwhile, Jeep and Chrysler were the most improved brands in the study. Both slashed 28 PP100 from their totals. Additionally, Chrysler and Dodge turned up a pair of nifty highlights. In the midsize sporty car segment that includes the modern-day muscle cars, the Dodge Challenger was rated as the having the highest initial quality for the third straight year. Next, in the minivan category, the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan finished in first and second place, while no other rival was able to achieve average IQS results.

And if the Blue Oval contingent only took home a single segment trophy of its own, it was a significant victory: The Lincoln MKZ bested cars like the 2016 BMW 3 Series and Lexus ES for highest IQS honors among compact premium cars.

What Does it All Mean for Customers?

Well, per J.D. Power, the IQS results are proof positive that today’s cars and trucks are better than ever during the first three months of ownership, and that the rate of improvement is increasing as well. Nearly two-thirds of the 33 brands in the 2016 study were able to reduce their PP100 rates, with the industry as a whole improving initial quality by 6 percent over 2015. To put that into context, industry IQS scores improved 3 percent between the 2014 and 2015 studies.

The bottom line from Renee Stephens, vice president of U.S. automotive quality at J.D. Power: “Manufacturers are currently making some of the highest quality products we’ve ever seen. Tracking our data over the past several years, it has become clear that automakers are listening to the customer, identifying pain points and are focused on continuous improvement. Even as they add more content, including advanced technologies that have had a reputation for causing problems, overall quality continues to improve.”

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