The latest crop of cars, trucks and crossovers have proved more appealing than ever, according to J.D. Power’s latest Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) study. The research firm credits much of the improvement to a handful of all-new and completely redesigned models like the Nissan Maxima, BMW 4-Series and Toyota Sienna—as well as the new, all-electric Ford Mustang Mach-E. Among manufacturers, however, Porsche and Dodge came out on top thanks to familiar products.
Where Power’s Initial Quality Study, released late last month, focuses on problems with new vehicles, the 2021 U.S. APEAL Study asks motorists about the things they like about their new vehicles. In a number of cases, appealing vehicles that have numerous “things gone wrong” actually score well if they deliver on the things customers wanted most out of their new rides.
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“Appealing New Models” Helped Raise Average Score
“One of the biggest factors driving the industry’s improvement this year is the introduction of several highly appealing new models,” said David Amodeo, director of global automotive at J.D. Power. “The new launches demonstrate that automakers are getting even better at hitting buyers’ emotional triggers.”
The APEAL study asks owners to rate their late-model vehicles according to 37 attributes that range from performance to styling, as well as the level of comfort and exhilaration they feel behind the wheel.
Over the years, luxury brands have traditionally topped the chart, and Porsche came in this year with a score of 882 points out of a possible 1,000. Stuttgart is a perennial APEAL leader, but this year Dodge tied with the German automaker. The Detroit muscle car manufacturer has also come up fast in the IQS, becoming the first-ever domestic brand to lead the quality study in 2020 and ranking second this year.
Mainstream Brands Close In On Premium Brands’ Appeal
Overall, premium brands remain in the lead in the 2021 APEAL study, with an average score of 864. But the gap has been narrowing in recent years, with mainstream models like Dodge coming in just 19 points behind, at 845.
And unlike Power’s Initial Quality Study, where there were big gaps between top- and bottom-ranked models, every single automaker, premium and mainstream, scored over 800 points.
That said, Chrysler was the lowest-ranked brand in the entire study, with a score of 826 points. It also ran dead last in IQS. Acura and Infiniti, tied with a score of 842, sat at the bottom of the premium brand chart.
Official Winner: Porsche. Highest Scorer: Tesla
While Porsche was officially declared the winner in this year’s APEAL study, Tesla would have led with a score of 893—down 3 points from last year. But there’s an asterisk by that number. The California carmaker refuses to give Power access to buyers in 15 states, so its data is incomplete and based on results from only 35 states.
The same was the case with the IQS where Tesla ranked third from the bottom due to a wide range of quality issues. But Tesla provides a good example of how buyers can wind up overlooking defects as long as their vehicles have lots of surprise and delight attributes, such as strong design, good performance and, with EVs, long range.
Mustang Mach-E only EV to lead a segment
Ford’s Mustang Mach-E clearly struck a positive chord with buyers, the new, all-electric crossover beating out conventional models like the second-ranked Nissan Rogue and Mazda CX-5 in the Compact SUV category. The Mach-E was the only battery-electric vehicle to take top honors in any of the 19 segments. Tesla products were not included.
From a manufacturer perspective, General Motors had more segment winners than any other brand, with a total of five, including: Cadillac CT5, Chevrolet Blazer, Chevrolet Corvette, Chevrolet Tahoe, and GMC Sierra HD.
BMW was close behind, with four winners: BMW 4 Series, BMW X4, BMW X6, and BMW X7.
The Hyundai Motor Group had three winners, however, they were built by the South Korean carmaker’s smaller brands: Genesis G80, Kia K5, and Kia Telluride. Nissan also had three winners: Nissan Maxima, Nissan Sentra and Nissan Versa.
Ford scored with both the Mach-E and the new Bronco Sport, one of the highest-rated models in this year’s APEAL study.
Daimler, Honda, Jaguar Land Rover, Stellantis, Toyota and Volvo each placed one segment winner.
Dual winners on APEAL and IQS
Seven models led their segments in both the APEAL and IQS studies: BMW X4, BMW X6, BMW X7, Cadillac CT5, Chevrolet Corvette, Genesis G80, Kia Telluride and Nissan Maxima.
The Maxima, in particular stood out as the single highest-ranked models in both studies, something Power described in a statement as a “remarkable achievement,” especially for a mainstream vehicle.
The 2021 APEAL study results were based on surveys filled out by 110,827 owners of new 2021 vehicles. The survey was conducted between February and July of this year.