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The most successful cars of 2012

Courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

The Mercedes-Benz E350 Coupe sells well and enjoys high praise from customers.

It has been a good summer for automakers in the United States.

Total vehicle sales hit 1.29 million units last month, up 20 percent over last year, while sales of midsize models rose 22 percent to 2.52 million vehicles sold this year, according to Autodata.

Chrysler, Ford and General Motors each beat expected sales numbers for August, with Chrysler up 14 percent, Ford up 13 percent and GM up 10 percent.

Forbes.com slideshow: See the most successful cars of 2012

And among export brands, Toyota in particular reported stellar figures: Sales surged 46 percent last month, exceeding the 40-percent gain many analysts had predicted. 

Executives at the Toyota City, Japan-based company credit the rise to the strength of new and updated models, so it’s no surprise that four of them made our list of the most successful cars of the year. The Toyota Camry, Toyota Carolla, Toyota Prius and Toyota RAV4 all made the cut.

Behind the Numbers

 The success has to do with more than straight sales numbers — think strong sales combined with high consumer satisfaction rates and rave reviews at Consumer Reports.

To determine which cars and trucks were the most successful of 2012, we looked at three factors: total sales volume to date nationwide; consumer satisfaction ratings on brands compiled by the American Customer Satisfaction Index, and overall grades for performance, reliability, safety and value awarded by Consumer Reports.

We included in the prospective winners the top-five selling luxury cars, since their sell-rates by design are lower than those of economy sedans but they often receive extremely high satisfaction and CR scores. A few of them, like the BMW 3-Series, did make the final cut.

For simplicity sake, we also blended variants rated into the main model. For instance, if a Lexus LS 460L ranks highest on overall scores for Consumer Reports – and it does – we listed it under the Lexus LS line.

It should be noted that our list doesn’t include some perennial best-sellers, like the Ford F-150 truck, which more than qualifies via sells numbers but fell short as a brand with satisfaction ratings. It also doesn’t include the Porsche Cayenne, which — despite its wide success on the U.S. market — missed the cut because its lower sales volume precluded it from our criteria.

The list does, however, include such gems as the Hyundai Genesis.

Hyundai’s $34,200 sedan saw double-digit sales over last year and consistently outsells mid-luxury players like the Audi A6, Infiniti M and Lexus GS. Consumer Reports named it the most dependable mid-sized premium car, the first vehicle to win that distinction its first year of eligibility.

In fact, this has been a good year from the Korean manufacturer — the Hyundai Sonata and Elantra also made our list.

Mercedes-Benz, too, landed a few winners. The Benz gateway model C Class qualified by virtue of its exceptional satisfaction ratings and high popularity among consumers (it routinely outsells its competitors). Likewise, a high overall score from Consumer Reports and best-selling status versus several of its competitors helped the $51,000 Mercedes-Benz E Class land a spot.

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