When it comes to making the perfect car, foreign manufacturers came closer to the mark this year than their domestic counterparts, a study released this month reports.

Audi captured the top spot, followed by two models each from Lexus and Mercedes-Benz in the Automobile Club of Southern California's annual target car report. Points are based on how well a model performs during tests by the club's engineering staff of what members say are a car's 12 most important features."These particular cars are the ones that meet the criteria that more people said they wanted in a car, and these manufacturers are coming closer to the mark for what we would call the ideal car," spokesman Jeffrey Spring said. Those include braking, ride quality, visibility for passengers, crash-worthiness, handling, luggage carrying capability, fuel economy and acceleration.

The 1998 Audi A4 Avant Quattro finished first with 69.9 points. The car, which cost $36,830, impressed testers with its handling, all-wheel-drive traction and safety features. But they also found the rear seat to be small and the radio and cruise control buttons awkward to use.

Rounding out the top five were the Lexus GS 400, priced at $48,161; the Mercedes-Benz E320 station wagon, priced at $54,150; the Lexus LS 400, priced at $55,022; and the Mercedes-Benz CLK 320, priced at $45,310.

The top-scoring truck, with 76.8 points, was the Dodge Ram 1500 4x4 Quad Cab SLT, which cost $31,565. The car with the lowest cost per point was the Suzuki Esteem GL, with 54.2 points and a $12,929 price tag.

About 4 million California residents belong to the Auto Club. The report will be available next week for $7.50 a copy.

Ken McEldowney, executive director of San Francisco-based Consumer Action, said such studies have a positive impact.