Contrary to the old adage, you don’t always get what you pay for, especially when it comes to purchasing a new vehicle, Consumer Reports says.

“Spending more money does not necessarily mean more quality,” Rik Paul tells the Automotive Press Assn. here as CR reveals results of its latest new-vehicle reliability ratings.

Paul says luxury cars often don’t fare as well in the survey because of problems with “body hardware,” such as power windows, advanced audio systems and other accessories. “You get more features (with a luxury vehicle), but reliability may be worse.”

According to the publication’s 2009 auto survey, inexpensive small cars and midsize sedans are the most reliable. The results are based on feedback from 1.4 million vehicle owners surveyed by the magazine.

Among small cars, 20 of 37 earned above-average predicted-reliability scores, while midsize cars followed close behind, with 21 models out of 41 scoring above average.

“By far, most small and midsize cars are average or better,” Paul says. “In other classes, the (results) are more evenly distributed.”

The survey was conducted this spring by CR’s National Survey Research Center and covered model years ’00-’09. CR statisticians and engineers use the data to predict the reliability of ’10 models. Predicted reliability is a forecast of how models currently on sale are likely to hold up, the magazine says.

Small cars that scored well include the Scion xD, Honda Insight and Honda Fit, all of which are recommended by the magazine.

In addition to the Insight, hybrids from Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. Ltd., Ford Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. also garnered recommendations, Paul says.

“Given that hybrids are more technically complex it’s very impressive that we’re seeing so many hybrids with so few problems,” Paul says, noting the trend likely will continue as auto makers begin to offer vehicles with all-electric powertrains.

Overall, Asian auto makers rank ahead of the pack, accounting for 36 of the 48 models with segment-topping reliability scores.

However, Ford has made impressive strides in recent years, besting even some of the top offerings by Japanese makers.

According to CR, only the Toyota Prius rates higher than the 4-cyl. versions of the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan midsize sedans, both of which outrank perennial top-performers the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

“It’s rare for Consumer Reports to see family sedans from domestic car makers continue to beat the reliability of such highly regarded Japanese models,” says David Champion, senior director of CR’s Automotive Test Center.

Ford’s domestic rivals General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC didn’t fare as well.

Of the 48 GM models tested by CR, 20 achieved average reliability scores, although the Chevrolet Malibu V-6 is rated better than average.

While GM’s overall results aren’t particularly impressive, the fact that some of its newer models performed well in the survey bodes well for the future, Paul says. The Chevrolet Traverse CRoss/utility vehicle was one such bright spot, earning recommended status.

“If the new models (GM is) bringing out – and they’re bringing out a bunch – have the same quality, they’ll be in better shape,” he says of the struggling auto maker.

The same can’t be said about Chrysler, largely because the auto maker has few new model debuts in the near future.

More than one-third of Chrysler products were rated below average, including the relatively new Dodge Journey CUV.

Last year, CR didn’t recommend any vehicles in Chrysler’s lineup. This year only one – the Dodge Ram 1500 pickup – was recommended.

“The Ram did better, and we’re hoping that’s a sign they’re on the right track too,” Paul says. “But (Chrysler) has a ways to go and we have a wait-and-see attitude.”

Paul says the bankruptcies of GM and Chrysler did not alter their scores, as the survey was conducted prior to the filings.

Despite their dominance in the rankings, not all Japanese vehicles are regarded by CR as good buys. The Nissan Quest minivan and Lexus GS sedan both scored below average.

Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd. and sister company Kia Motors Corp. continue to make strides. The Hyundai Elantra and Tuscon and Kia Sportage received top marks, while the new Hyundai Genesis V-6 is better than average, and the V-8 version is average, according to CR.

The European brands continue to improve, particularly Mercedes-Benz, which rebounded from poor scores in the past to having the most models rated average or better.

The Mercedes GLK did especially well in its first year in the survey, Paul says. “The GLK is the biggest surprise,” he says. “Mercedes had been struggling, but they are improving. And the GLK in its first year got a top rating.”

Ranked at the top by brand are Scion, Honda, Toyota, Infiniti and Acura. Mercury is the highest-rated domestic brand and Chrysler is the least reliable overall. The Volkswagen Touareg posted the worst score among individual models.

According to CR, the Touareg is 27 times more likely to have a problem than the most reliable car, the Honda Insight.

CR performed about 50 tests on the cars at its 327-aCRe (132-ha) track in Connecticut, rating the vehicles on such things as braking, handling, fuel economy and the ease of use of various features.