The researcher's annual "Initial Quality Study" looks at both "defects and malfunctions" as well as "quality of design." For this report, vehicle owners are surveyed at 90 days of ownership.
Three-fourths of brands scored better in 2008 than in last year's study. 86% of that gain was due to defect reduction.
But "Quality of design," which tracks problems that are designed into a car rather than the result of a manufacturing glitch, hasn't seen much improvement. Hard-to-use audio and entertainment controls are a big complaint, the company said.
Initial quality surveys have proven to be good at determining long-term durability of vehicles, according to J.D. Power.