Lexus finished first in the 1997 J.D. Power and Associates Customer Satisfaction Study that was released last week.
Infiniti was second, and Acura was third.
The industry average increased from 137 in 1996 to 141 in 1997.
The survey also found that customers continue to leave dealers for repairs and service. The shift could bring a fundamental change in the way customers are treated.
Last year, Power compiled separate indexes for cars and trucks. It created one index for both this year because customer experiences for both are similar.
Infiniti posted the top car score last year. Honda had the top truck score.
The results of the survey are based on more than 25,000 responses from owners of all makes in the United States. The study measures owner satisfaction after one year of ownership and takes into account vehicle reliability, repairs and customer handling.
In the new combined ranking, five General Motors makes scored above the industry average: Cadillac, Buick, Oldsmobile, Saturn and GMC.
Saturn, which has built a reputation for treating customers well, slid from fifth to seventh place, and scored four points lower this year - 154, compared with 158 in 1996.
Ford Division and Lincoln scored above the industry average. But all Chrysler Corp. nameplates scored below the average.
AMENITIES ARE IMPORTANT
An analysis by J.D. Power suggests that customer service will continue to include amenities that have nothing to do with the actual repair or routine maintenance of a vehicle.
Lincoln Merrihew, special projects director at J.D. Power, said consumers want to be productive or entertained while they wait for their vehicles to be serviced.
Several companies, including GM, Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. and Chrysler Corp., are testing satellite service centers.
The stand-alone service operations typically have extended hours; they stay open until at least 7 p.m., and are open on Saturday. They often have play areas for children and have phones, desks and electrical outlets for laptop computers so customers can work while they wait.
Merrihew said those types of amenities are the most important to consumers, and they bolster J.D. Power's belief that convenience will mainly drive customer satisfaction in the future.
He said: 'It might be time for a new era. One that includes servicing vehicles at your home.'