Auto Stories

The Most Appealing Cars

2013 Chevrolet Sonic

Most new-car owner surveys tend to dwell on what’s wrong, but at least one study measures things gone right. Here are the brands and models motorists love most.

While most of us like - or even love - our cars (that is until they betray us one too many times with a roadside breakdown), those who are truly head-over-heels enamored with their vehicles tend to own upscale cars that were more emotional, rather than rational, purchases.

Thus its no surprise luxury nameplates dominate the list of most-appealing car brands in the just-released 2012 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study conducted by J.D. Power and Associates in Westlake Village, Calif.

Porsche boasts the most absolute adoration among buyers for the eighth consecutive year. The next 10 top-rated brands are all upscale brands, including (in order of ranking) Jaguar, BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, Land Rover, Cadillac, Infiniti, Acura and Lincoln.

One interesting result from the 2012 APEAL Study is that motorists are becoming increasingly enamored with the new wave of smaller vehicles that afford a combination of solid performance, thrifty fuel economy and reasonably upscale accommodations. The study determined that 27 percent of new-vehicle buyers who replaced a vehicle downsized their rides by choosing a model in a smaller size segment. Only 13 percent of buyers bought larger vehicles, while 60 percent stayed the course by purchasing a new model in the same size segment.

“Although larger models continue to attain higher APEAL Study scores than smaller models - as they typically provide higher performance, have more pleasing styling, are more comfortable and include more features - owners who downsize find that today’s compact models are not the ‘econoboxes’ that they may have once feared,” says David Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power and Associates. “Automakers are heavily focused on providing the U.S. market with appealing smaller models, and buyers may be surprised at just how good some of them are.”

Overall, the study determined that buyers in all vehicle categories love their cars more deeply than ever, with APEAL scores again at their highest levels since the study was first conducted in 1996. As before, it’s designed to measure so-called “things gone right,” as compared to other new-car buyer surveys that dwell on a vehicle’s initial or long-term problems.

Chevrolet received the most individual per-segment awards in the 2012 APEAL Study for its Avalanche full-size pickup truck, Sonic subcompact and the electric Volt compact car, while Dodge, Jaguar and Ram garnered the greatest year-over-year improvements in APEAL scores; Dodge placed two models as best-in-class, the Challenger sports coupe and Charger full-size sedan.

In cross-comparing results, we found five vehicles that received class-leading scores in both J.D. Power’s APEAL survey and its 2012 Initial Quality Study. These include the Ford Expedition SUV, Kia Soul multipurpose vehicle, Nissan Frontier pickup, Nissan Quest minivan and the Porsche 911 sports car.

J.D. Power and Associates’ APEAL study is intended to quantify how “gratifying” a new vehicle is to own and drive, based on evaluations of more than 80 vehicle attributes. They survey was conducted between February and May 2012 with input from over 74,000 buyers and lessees of new 2012 model-year cars and trucks who were surveyed after their first 90 days of ownership. Complete ratings for all makes can be found at jdpower.com.