A brand can make or break an automaker.

By name alone, it carries a reputation for popularity, reliability and cost. As consumers, we’re often very conscious of the vehicle brand we’re driving, since it says a lot about our tastes and preferences.

Many tout Japanese brands for economy and quality, German marques for performance and luxury, and the American Big Three for rugged reliability — but do those perceptions truly reflect the automakers that produce the best cars?

To find out, AxleGeeks took an analytic approach, comparing every major mass-market automaker based on expert reviews, safety and efficiency of their models.

We’ve ranked the 30 best car brands in descending order, ending with the best car brand on the market.

We then combined that information into our Smart Rating, which allows you to easily see how each brand stacks up to the competition.

#30. Ram

A subsidiary of Chrysler, Ram is a popular utility vehicle provider that delivers on reliability where and when it counts. Though its parent company (Fiat Chrsler Automobiles) was saddled with a bad year in 2015 — with more than 9 million vehicles recalled — Ram can’t be beat in the power stakes, surpassing competitors with its average 383 HP and 400 ft. lbs of engine torque.

#29. MINI

MINI’s Cooper still remains popular with buyers seeking an alternative to the traditional sport coupe, hot hatch or pony car, without skimping on speed or oomph. Buyers who lust after MINI’s retro exteriors will fall in love with its modernist interiors, including tech features that only serve to enhance an already enjoyable drive.

#28. Tesla

Tesla has made its mark as the century’s first luxury electric car brand, where fuel economy is an understatement. The company’s Model S gets the equivalent of 95 miles per gallon, given that one gallon equals 33.7 kilowatt hours.

Of course, it can’t be ignored that most hybrid enthusiasts will be priced out of this segment due to Tesla’s place in the premium segment; and that 2015 was a year of several recalls for the innovative automaker.

#27. Mitsubishi

Mitsubishi might not be on many radars these days, but still earns a high rating from us. We’re impressed with the Triple Diamond’s high rankings from consumers and experts alike. Between the American Customer Satisfaction Index and J.D. Power, Mitsubishi is still a fine choice for people looking for fuel efficiency and great prices for a lineup of accessible cars.

#26. Mercedes-Benz

Kelley Blue Book named Mercedes-Benz the most trusted car brand, and it’s really no surprise: Next year will be the 90th anniversary of handcrafted, German automotive precision from the legendary brand.

People might not realize it, but Mercedes’ cars actually beat out all other luxury brands in horsepower and torque.

#25. Dodge

Dodge continues to improve its lineup in overall gas mileage, design cues, safety features and truck-segment cargo capacity. Though it can’t outperform Ford or Chevy in these categories, buyers will find Dodge’s competitive pricing and financing incentives two reasons to choose the brand over competing car companies.

#24. Chrysler

Chrysler’s marketing slogan of “America’s Import” implies that the all-American brand is taking on some European qualities, and it certainly has shown in recent years.

The brand’s car and truck lineup adopted styling hallmarks and performance enhancements to attract new buyers to a once-tired automaker. We give Chrysler kudos for its nifty navigation system, as well as blind-spot and lane-change warnings to keep the cabin safe on the road.

#23. Nissan

We’re most impressed with Nissan’s versatility as an automaker — what other brand provides buyers with an $11,000 subcompact and $101,000 supercar under one moniker?

Horsepower, torque and interior space are categories where the automaker excels beyond its luxury and non-luxury competitors — qualities that don’t often go hand in hand when it comes to cars.

#22. Jaguar

Jaguar buyers rely on the brand to deliver luxe interiors, spirited performance and innovative tech on a chassis that exudes class, style and heritage in one. We were impressed with how much supercar character the U.K. brand recently injected into its cars, not the least of which includes the new F-Type roadster, plus sport versions of the XF and XK models.

#21. Porsche

From the Carrera to Cayenne and Cayman, Porsche is no doubt the sportiest and most enthusiast-oriented German luxury brand. Compared to other German luxury brands, Porsche wins in the horsepower stakes — with the 887-HP 918 in its lineup, few brands can compare.

#20. Ford

The Blue Oval’s continued embrace of technology means that Ford stands ahead of the pack when it comes to driver tech. Among its peers, the brand gives drivers the best when it comes to safety features like blind-spot monitoring and lane-departure warnings. Ford will always remain tough in the horsepower, torque and towing-capacity game, helped in no small part by the Mustang and its F-series of pickups.

#19. GMC

General Motors is primarily a pickup brand, focused on trucks, crossovers and utility vehicles. Because of it’s diverse fleet, it was named the Most Refined Brand by Kelley Blue Book.

Though none of the vehicles in the GMC family lead the way in towing or payload capacity, the brand’s true calling lies in its cargo capacity and high fuel economy.

#18. BMW

BMW has more than 56 models in its lineup, ranging from $31,000 to $136,000. It’s no doubt the most diverse luxury brand, appealing to entry-level luxury enthusiasts, experienced automotive connoisseurs and everyone in between.

The brand’s M Series and xDrive innovations mean that BMW has upped its performance numbers in recent years — along with better gas mileage across the lineup of this staid German marque.

#17. Volkswagen

The German brand gives its Japanese counterparts a run for their money — literally — by offering a host of low MSRPs and financing incentives. The brand did take a hit recently though when news broke that the automaker was lying about meeting emissions standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This was an industry-wide issue, however.

#16. Lexus

Lexus impresses upon motorists Japanese economy with German prestige. With the likes of the IS 250, Lexus has infused its lineup with sportier pretensions in recent years, recognized by Motor Trend and Consumer Reports for its improvements in design, performance and all-around efficiency.

#15. Chevrolet

Chevy has embraced auto tech to improve its safety and fuel economy across its lineup. Whether it’s a Spark, Silverado or Corvette that’s your flavor, Chevy continues to top expert lists for dependability, performance and reliability, ensuring its overall high resale value.

#14. Cadillac

Cadillac is a popular brand for buyers looking for a car with class and status, without sacrificing on power, comfort or reliability. Cadillac’s performance numbers have readily impressed experts of late, especially in its SUV segment, where the Escalade outshines all other SUVs and crossovers.

#13. Audi

Though it might not have the brand heritage of BMW or Mercedes, Audi ranks higher on our list and is the newest of the German trinity of luxury brands, founded in 1955.

Whether it’s the entry-level A3 or the Lamborghini-infused R8, Audi might very well be the most diverse German brand. Respected by consumers and peers alike, in the last decade the brand has used engineering to its benefit, making great strides in gas mileage and performance tech.

#12. Toyota

Buyers rely on Toyota for great gas mileage and reliability, but the real champion of the lineup is the Prius, which kicked off the green trend that’s cornered a segment of the market concerned with emissions.

#11. Kia

The fact that Kia ranks so highly among consumers and reviewers alike speaks volumes for the Korean car brand that just a few years ago was dismissed as an inefficient, budget brand.

Kia’s wide lineup offers something for every motorist, from the economy Rio to the luxury K900 — and in every model, buyers can find excellent fuel economy, spacious cargo room and impressive interior materials. Kia makes good on its incentive program and currently offers a $2,500 rebate in Customer Cash.

#10. Scion

Rarely does an offshoot brand outrank its parent company, but in the case of Scion, it gets higher marks than Toyota, which created the contemporary marque in 2002.

Though Scions have gone up in price over the last few years, it remains a brand for cost-conscious people who want their vehicles to be safe and loaded with standard features that other brands charge extra for.

#9. Lincoln

Lincoln impressed us for besting American luxury car competitors on interior features like blind-spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control. After a spate of vehicle recalls about 15 years ago, those numbers have dramatically dropped in recent years, which is one reason why the NHTSA ranks Lincoln so highly.

#8. Volvo

The Swedish automaker offers a surprising amount of accessibility — price and function-wise — for a luxury brand. In the last 25 years, Volvo’s made great strides in its fuel economy, horsepower and torque, while staying on the competitive end in cargo and towing capacity.

#7. Hyundai

Hyundai tells a similar story as Kia, having risen from mediocrity to become one of the most popular car brands in the market today.

Like Kia, diversity rules in the Hyundai lineup — from the economical Accent, to the muscular Genesis and Mercedes-rival Equus — impressing in gas efficiency, safety and other features.

#6. Infiniti

Across its family of coupes, sedans and SUVs, Infiniti offers a range of feature-filled, sporty vehicles attractively priced below its competitors and bolstered by low-rate financing deals. Infiniti also receives high marks from top-industry sources, like J.D. Power and Consumer Reports, for its safety traits and performance values that don’t sacrifice fuel efficiency.

#5. Mazda

The Japanese “niche” brand of the economy-car segment, Mazda’s experience in combining sporty performance, family-oriented design and rugged utility (often in the same vehicle) places the nameplate high on our list. Awarded by experts and peers alike, Mazda buyers will find the best gas mileage available in the segment along with tempting financing incentives.

#4. Acura

Acura combines the efficiency of parent company Honda with luxury performance, interior and features that bring quality to this affordable marque.

Acura ranks highly for its affordability, with average MSRPs well below that of other luxury car brands, and shines in other areas, too, like safety ratings and cargo space.

#3. Buick

There will always be comparisons made between Buick and Cadillac, since the two share a bloodline of General Motors sheetmetal, design and engine platforms. A high-end non-luxury brand, each model in its lineup can be obtained for under $40,000. Buick also stands ahead of all American luxury and non-luxury brands in terms of fuel efficiency, safety ratings and overall features.

#2. Honda

It’s no surprise that Honda ranks in the top two on our best brands list — and No. 1 in the economy car class compared to the Toyotas and Mazdas of the market.

The godfather of Japanese compact cars that delivers on fuel efficiency, reliability and value for the dollar, most cars in Honda’s lineup can be owned for less than $20,000. They also boast a reputation for exceptional fuel economy and high safety ratings. Honda was also named Kelley Blue Book’s best overall brand and best value brand.

#1. Subaru

Subaru might be best known for equipping most of its models with standard all-wheel drive. It equips its cars with superior fuel efficiency across all segments, plus the brand boasts top rankings from the NHTSA and expert awards from Motor Trend and Consumer Reports. The nameplate has also forged successful relationships with brands like Toyota in the production of its BRZ sports car.

Best Car Brands Ranked By Category

Now, let’s have a closer look at each important category of a car and rate the best ones:

Best for Power and Performance

  • Porsche: Unmatched in sportiness and horsepower within the German luxury segment.
  • Ford: Known for strong performance numbers, especially with the Mustang and F-Series pickups.
  • BMW: Offers performance innovations with its M Series and xDrive, boasting improved gas mileage and performance.
  • Audi: Recognized for its engineering strides in performance tech, offering a diverse range from the A3 to the R8.
  • Subaru: Not only offers standard all-wheel drive but also superior fuel efficiency across all segments with commendable performance.

Best for Luxury and Prestige

  • Mercedes-Benz: A legend in handcrafted, German automotive precision, leading in luxury and horsepower.
  • Cadillac: Combines class, status, and power, especially noted for its SUV segment leadership.
  • Lexus: Japanese economy meets German prestige, recently adding sportier elements to its lineup.
  • Acura: Blends Honda’s efficiency with luxury performance and features at an affordable price point.
  • Lincoln: Stands out for American luxury, offering advanced interior features and a significant improvement in safety and reliability.

Best for Economy and Fuel Efficiency

  • Tesla: Leads the luxury electric segment with unmatched fuel economy.
  • Toyota: Known for the Prius, which spearheaded the green trend for emissions-conscious consumers.
  • Honda: Tops in the economy class for fuel efficiency, reliability, and value.
  • Mazda: Offers the best gas mileage in the segment, combining sporty performance with fuel efficiency.
  • Hyundai: Has risen to popularity with a diverse lineup impressing in gas efficiency and safety features.

Best for Safety and Reliability

  • Volvo: Known for accessibility and significant strides in fuel economy, horsepower, and safety.
  • Infiniti: Receives high marks for safety traits and performance values without sacrificing fuel efficiency.
  • Buick: Stands ahead in fuel efficiency, safety ratings, and overall features among American brands.
  • Subaru: Boasts top rankings from the NHTSA, reflecting its focus on safety across all models.
  • Audi: Gains respect for making great strides in safety alongside its advancements in performance tech.

Best for Innovation and Technology

  • Tesla: Pioneering in the luxury electric car market with innovative models like the Model S.
  • Ford: Leads with technology in safety features and driver-assist technologies.
  • BMW: Continues to innovate with its M Series and xDrive, improving across the board.
  • Chevrolet: Embraces auto tech to enhance safety and fuel economy across its diverse lineup.
  • Audi: Utilizes engineering to benefit from advancements in gas mileage and performance technologies.

This curated list aims to highlight the multifaceted excellence within the automotive industry, showcasing brands that lead in performance, luxury, economy, safety, and technological innovation.

Each brand brings something unique to the table, whether it’s the eco-friendly pioneering of Tesla, the luxury and engineering prowess of Mercedes-Benz and BMW, or the safety and reliability standards set by Volvo and Subaru.

These distinctions help consumers navigate the diverse automotive landscape to find a vehicle that best matches their priorities and lifestyle.