According to the latest market research, General Motors Corp. is right: Some people really would rather have a Buick.

Unfortunately for GM, most people would be happier in a Lexus, Mercedes, Toyota or Infiniti.

In the auto industry's equivalent of the Academy Awards, foreign automakers took the top four spots for producing quality cars, with Toyota Motor Corp.'s luxury Lexus car leading the pack.

GM's Buick cars beat out all their domestic competitors and such popular foreign nameplates as Honda, Nissan and BMW in the overall quality ratings for 1990 cars done by J.D. Power and Associates.

Although foreign automakers have dominated the ratings since they began five years ago, the unusually strong showing by Buick and other domestic makers offers evidence that the quality gap between U.S.-made cars and their foreign competitors is narrowing, the Power report said.

Power, a California-based automotive marketing and research firm, is regarded as the nation's leading authority on measurements of automotive quality. Its annual Initial Quality Survey (IQS) is awaited by automakers and their dealers for use in their market research and advertising.

IQS is a measurement of the problems encountered during the first 60 to 90 days of vehicle ownership, and standings in the rating system are based on the number of reported problems per 100 cars sold.

Lexus took top honors with 82 problems per 100 cars. Mercedes-Benz followed with 84 per 100, Toyota with 89, Infiniti with 99, and Buick with 113. Honda was a close sixth with 114, and Nissan trailed in the distance with 123, followed by Acura with 129 and BMW with 139.

Overall new-car quality improved 6 percent, with a reported 142 defects per 100 new cars sold in the 1990 model year, compared with 151 defects per 100 1989 models sold.

Japanese automakers, as a group, maintained their overall quality lead with 121 reported problems per 100 cars. But that is the same rating that Japanese cars had in 1989, the Power report said.

Domestic manufacturers cut their defects to 153 for 1990 models from 162 per 100 for their 1989 cars, and the Europeans reduced their defects from 203 to 181.

There is a warning in those numbers for Japanese automakers, the Power report said.

While Asian carmakers continue to make the highest-quality cars, "there are consequences to being at the top," the Power report said.