Surprise: Lincoln, the Ford luxury brand perhaps most associated with cushy rides to the airport, has the most reliable vehicles on the market, according to J.D. Power and Associates. The venerable brand, trying to make a comeback with baby boomers who largely rejected Lincoln cars over the last twenty years, topped Lexus, Jaguar, Porsche and Toyota.

And while the research firm says that domestic brands as a whole still lag import brands for vehicle dependability, consumers should look at each brand and not make too many assumptions. Chrysler, for example, was selling products with low quality scores during the time of the study, though it has improved its lineup a lot for this year.

J.D. Power and Associates issues several quality studies a year, but today's Vehicle Dependability Plan Study (VDPS) is one of the most valuable to consumers. That's because it is based on consumer feedback after three years of ownership, considered a suitable amount of time for real problems to surface.

Overall, J.D. Power says, vehicle dependability has never been higher since it started this particular study in 1990.

For Lincoln, the no. 1 ranking couldn't come at a better time. Ford has sold off all its European luxury brands--Jaguar, Land Rover, Aston Martin and Volvo--and is putting more money into its Lincoln business, adding new products and giving the division more money for advertising. "This is another great testament to Lincoln," said Scott Tobin, director of Lincoln Product Development. "Long-term durability is the perfect foundation upon which to build the resurgence of the Lincoln brand. We have the dependability that's important to consumers, and now we have great new products like the innovative new Lincoln MKX and the fuel-efficient MKZ Hybrid."

One of the big reasons vehicles overall are more dependable, besides good old fashioned progress and learning, is that companies back in the 1990s began engineering vehicles and parts to last longer. Fuel and water pumps, engines and the like were developed to last well over 100,000 miles. Prior, many parts were specified to last perhaps as little as 80,000 miles. Asian car makers such as Toyota and Honda, led the way, and the annual rankings by J.D. Power made public pressured American companies to follow suit. The more robust the parts and engineering, the longer vehicles and their parts are likely to run without failing.

Most Reliable Vehicles

Sub-Compact Car 2008 Honda Fit
Compact Car 2008 Toyota Prius
Compact Sporty Car 2008 Mazda Miata
Midsize Sporty Car 2008 Ford Mustang
Midsize Car 2008 Ford Fusion
Large Car 2008 Buick Lucerne
Compact Premium Sporty Car 2008 Mercedes-Benz CLK
Entry Premium Car 2008 Lincoln MKZ
Midsize Premium Car 2008 Acura RL
Large Premium Car 2008 Cadillac DTS
Compact Multi Purpose Vehicle 2008 Scion xB
Compact Crossover/SUV 2008 Honda CR-V
Entry Premium Crossover/SUV 2008 BMW X3
Midsize Crossover/SUV 2008 Toyota 4Runner
Large Crossover/SUV 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe
Large Pickup 2008 Toyota Tundra
Midsize Pickup 2008 Toyota Tacoma
Midsize Van 2008 Toyota Sienna
Midsize Premium Crossover/SUV 2008 Lexus RX 350
Large Premium Crossover/SUV 2008 Lincoln Navigator

Source: J.D. Power and Associates

The bad news: Vehicles would be even more reliable but for the fancy navigation and entertainment systems automakers are putting in new vehicles; the ones that keep drivers connected to Facebook, traffic advisories and their entire music library.

"Automakers, as a whole, have made significant improvements in reducing traditional problems, particularly with vehicle interiors; engines and transmissions; and steering and braking during the past several years," said David Sargent, vice president of global vehicle research at J.D. Power and Associates. "However, as manufacturers add new features and technologies to satisfy customer demand and new legislation, they face the potential for introducing new problems."

Despite the recall woes of Toyota Motor Corp. in the last year (over ten million vehicles recalled worldwide), the company still ranks very high in dependability and won seven of the categories measured in the study, more than any other automaker. The Toyota 4Runner, Prius, Sienna, Tacoma and Tundra topped their categories. In addition, the Lexus RX, and ScionxB also won their categories.

Ford won four categories with highest dependability scores for the Ford Fusion and Mustang, as well as the Lincoln MKZ and Navigator. General Motors (Buick Lucerne, Cadillac DTS, and Chevrolet Tahoe) and Honda Motor Company (Acura RL, Honda CR-V and Honda Fit) each received three awards.

One thing to keep in mind when researching the winning models: Some of the highly ranked vehicles have been redesigned and updated since 2008. Toyota's Sienna, Prius and 4Runner, for example, have all received makeovers. And those makeovers can cause the new versions of those vehicles' rankings to fall, especially when new technology is added. On the other hand, new vehicle designs can improve rankings by a wide margin. The new Chrysler 300, Jeep Compass and Dodge Charger are significantly better than their older versions reflected in the this study.

Before making conclusions about a new-vehicle purchase, it's best to look this study, as well as J.D. Power's Initial Quality Study (IQS), which measures quality of new cars in the first three months of ownership. Balance those results with other information about new models from sources like AOL Autos Make and Model Guide.

One of the best uses of Power's VDPS, though, is assessing the quality of a late model used car. Vehicles at the top of the rankings are among the most reliable pre-owned vehicles.

J.D. Power, along with Consumer Reports, is one of the most prominent arbiters of quality, and the firm's rankings tend to reverberate over the Internet where most car buyers are shopping.

The study is based on responses from more than 43,700 original owners of 2008 model-year vehicles after three years of ownership. The study was fielded between October and December 2010.