Fuel-efficient vehicles are a very reliable segment of the automotive market overall, according to the editors of Consumer Reports. Ford's reliability on many...

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Fuel-efficient vehicles are a very reliable segment of the automotive market overall, according to the editors of Consumer Reports. Ford’s reliability on many models is as good as its Japanese counterparts. And European cars, which have trailed the domestic models for about five years, are showing signs of improvement.

Those are some of the findings of CR’s 2008 Annual Car Reliability Survey, based on subscribers’ experiences with 1.4 million vehicles. Respondents reported on any serious problems they had with their vehicles in 17 trouble spots during the previous 12 months, which allowed CR to provide predicted-reliability ratings for new cars.

A total of nine hybrid models for which CR had sufficient data rated above average in predicted reliability, most from Japanese automakers. From the Family Cars category, the Toyota Prius, the Toyota Camry Hybrid and the Nissan Altima Hybrid, as well as the luxury Lexus GS450h Hybrid sedan are all among the most reliable.

The Lexus RX400h and the Toyota Highlander Hybrid are among the most reliable in midsized SUVs, while the Ford Escape Hybrid and Mercury Mariner Hybrid small SUVs rated above average in predicted reliability. The Honda Civic Hybrid is also above average. In addition, conventional gas sippers such as the Honda Fit, Scion xD, Smart ForTwo and Toyota Yaris had few problems.

Ford’s three nameplates — Ford, Lincoln and Mercury — lead the domestic automakers and continue to pull away from the rest of Detroit. Except for some truck-based vehicles, almost all Ford products are now average or better. Excluding those, Ford’s reliability is now on par with good Japanese automakers. The Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan continued to rank among the most reliable family cars. The freshened Ford Focus sedan rated above average, a vast improvement from when the new model debuted in 2000 with below-average reliability.

European automakers, particularly Mercedes-Benz, showed signs of a comeback. Six Mercedes models, including the redesigned C-Class and E-Class (V6) sedans and the ML350 SUV have improved to average reliability and are now recommended. Last year, no Mercedes models had average or better reliability and so could not be recommended by CR.

Still, Japanese cars are the most reliable overall, leading 15 of 16 categories in CR’s predicted reliability ratings. The Scion xD has the best predicted reliability score for all new cars with about 80 percent fewer problems than the average model.

CR’s other findings include:

European and Japanese brands rebound. Though Mercedes-Benz has shown improvement, a third of its models still have reliability problems, and no models scored above average.

Last year, CR called out three Toyota models that slipped to below average: the Camry V6, Tundra V8 4WD and the Lexus GS AWD. But Toyota seems to have rectified some of the problems since all 42 of the Toyota, Lexus and Scion models in the survey scored average or better. The three models noted above scored average.

Nissan showed some striking improvements, with the troublesome Armada SUV, Titan pickup and Infiniti QX56 SUV finally gaining average reliability.

Korean brands excel. The two closely related South Korean nameplates, Hyundai and Kia, rank right up there with the better Japanese makers. Most models scored above average or better.

General Motors is a mixed bag. Among the bright spots is the redesigned Chevrolet Malibu with above-average reliability for the four-cylinder model and average for the V6. But a quarter of GM models are still well below average.

Chrysler struggles. Chrysler trails the pack. Though the Dodge Caliber hatchback and Jeep Patriot SUV are above average, almost two-thirds of its products rate below average. The new Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan minivans earned low scores, as did the Chrysler Sebring V6 and Dodge Avenger sedans and Jeep Liberty SUV.

The Sebring convertible had the worst predicted reliability score: 283 percent worse than average.