The top of JD Power's 2015 APEAL Study has not changed much in the last year. Porsche remains No. 1 with Jaguar nipping at its heels, although both premium brands saw their overall score fall compared to 2014. For those that need a refresher, the APEAL Study looks at how "gratifying" a vehicle is to own and drive, rating cars and brands on a 1,000-point scale.

The industry average for 2015 has increased from 794 to 798, while the total number of automakers that finished above the curve increased from 16 to 20. While Porsche and Jaguar finished at the top, their scores dropped eight and seven points, respectively, to 874 and 855. The top "non-premium" brand was Mini, which scored an impressive 825, up from 795. If the BMW-owned British marque is still a bit too premium for your tastes, last year's non-premium winner, Hyundai, did climb five points and is this year's runner up.

At the opposite end of the scale, Smart sits at the very bottom of the rankings, with a score of 683 (it didn't appear on the 2014 rankings). Fiat also dropped, from fourth worst in 2014 to second worst in 2015, despite the 500 being named most appealing city car. Subaru made an impressive climb, from third worst to seventh, falling just 10 points shy of the industry average and two points south of the non-premium average.

In the individual vehicle segments, eight brands earned multiple awards, with Ford, Chevrolet, and Porsche earning three apiece. Surprise segment victories included the new Ford Expedition, which beat out Chevy's popular Suburban. The Infiniti QX80 bested the likes of the Cadillac Escalade and Range Rover for best large luxury SUV, and the Dodge Challenger beat its muscle car rivals from Ford and Chevy. Most of the victories, though, were quite predictable. The Mazda6 and CX-5 took wins for the midsize sedan and compact SUV categories respectively, while the Volkswagen Golf captured the compact car win. The Ford F-150 won the large pickup category, while the Porsche Cayman was named most appealing compact premium sporty car.

Check out the official release on the 2015 APEAL Study, available below, from JD Power.
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2015 U.S. APEAL Study Results

The latest safety-related technologies are among the drivers of customer satisfaction with new vehicles, according to the J.D. Power 2015 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM The study, now in its 20th year, measures how gratifying a new vehicle is to own and drive and is the industry benchmark for new-vehicle appeal in terms of performance and design. This year, the overall industry APEAL Index score has increased by 4 points from last year (798 vs. 794, respectively, on a 1,000-point scale).

The 2015 study finds that certain safety features can significantly boost APEAL Index scores. For example, the overall score among owners of vehicles with blind-spot monitoring and warning systems is 38 points higher than among those whose vehicle lacks these systems.

"Unlike other technologies, such as voice recognition, that can be challenging to operate, most safety features provide information in a more intuitive way, giving owners a greater sense of security," said Renee Stephens, vice president of U.S. automotive quality at J.D. Power. "Not only are models increasingly offering systems that improve safety and visibility, but owners are also using them on a regular basis. This can go a long way toward generating positive feelings about their vehicle overall."

Non-Premium Brands Closing the Gap with Premium Makes

Another key finding of the study is that the gap in overall APEAL Index scores between Premium (or luxury) and Non-Premium vehicle brands has narrowed significantly. While Premium brands historically perform higher than Non-Premium brands in the APEAL Study, the latest research shows that the gap between the two is the smallest it's been in the past 10 years. The average APEAL Index score in the Non-Premium segment (790) has improved by 5 points from 2014, while the average score in the Premium segment (841) has improved by only 1 point. The gap has narrowed by 16% since 2006.

"Over the past several years, we have seen Non-Premium brands increasingly offer the types of in-vehicle technologies that used to be available only to Premium buyers," Stephens said. "The positive impact these technologies have on owners is more pronounced among Non-Premium owners, with the average APEAL score 50 points higher among those whose vehicle includes the latest technology than among those whose vehicle does not. In comparison, the gap is only 29 points between Premium brand owners whose vehicle is equipped with the latest technology and those whose vehicle is not."

Blind-Spot Warning Systems Win Favor

Among the study's key findings is that 36% of owners have blind-spot monitoring and warning systems in their vehicle (up 7 percentage points from 2014); 21% have lane-departure warning systems (up 5 percentage points); 46% have park-assist/backup warning (up 4 percentage points); and 25% have collision-avoidance/alert systems (up 4 percentage points). Furthermore, 69% of owners who have blind-spot warning systems and 62% with park-assist systems indicate they use them every time they drive. Only 15% of all owners surveyed say they have had previous experience with blind-spot warning systems, and only 39% say their dealer explained the feature to them upon vehicle delivery.

According to the J.D. Power 2015 U.S. Tech Choice Study,SM consumers are willing to spend substantially more on vehicles that include certain safety features. For example, respondents in that study indicate a willingness to pay a premium of $750, on average, for blind-spot warning and detection systems.

Porsche Ranks Highest among Auto Brands

Porsche ranks highest among brands in the 2015 U.S. APEAL Study, achieving the highest overall score (874) for an 11th consecutive year. Following Porsche in the nameplate rankings are Jaguar (855), BMW (854), Mercedes-Benz (853), and Audi (852). Mini is the highest-ranked Non-Premium brand in the study, with a score of 825. Further, eight auto brands have multiple segment award recipients, including Chevrolet, Ford, and Porsche (three each); and Audi, BMW, Dodge, Mazda, and Mini (two each).

Highest-Ranked Models by Segment

Following is a listing of the 26 vehicle segments that comprise the 2015 U.S. APEAL Study and the model that ranks highest in each:
• City Car: Fiat 500
• Small Car: Chevrolet Sonic
• Small Premium Car: Audi A3
• Compact Car: Volkswagen Golf
• Compact Sporty Car: Mini Cooper
• Compact Premium Car: BMW 4 Series
• Compact Premium Sporty Car: Porsche Cayman
• Midsize Car: Mazda 6
• Midsize Sporty Car: Dodge Challenger
• Midsize Premium Car: BMW 6 Series
• Large Car: Dodge Charger
• Large Premium Car: Mercedes-Benz S-Class
• Small SUV: Mini Countryman
• Small Premium SUV: Audi Q3
• Compact SUV: Mazda CX-5
• Compact Premium SUV: Porsche Macan
• Compact MPV: Ford C-Max
• Midsize SUV: Nissan Murano
• Midsize Premium SUV: Porsche Cayenne
• Midsize Pickup: Chevrolet Colorado
• Minivan: Kia Sedona
• Large SUV: Ford Expedition
• Large Premium SUV: Infiniti QX80
• Large Light Duty Pickup: Ford F-150
• Large Heavy Duty Pickup: GMC Sierra HD

Consumer Tips

Based on findings of the 2015 U.S. APEAL Study, J.D. Power offers the following consumer tips:
• Ask your dealer to explain the benefits of the latest safety features and how to use them before deciding whether to add them to your vehicle (if they're optional).
• If you're adding an optional package of safety features, familiarize yourself with all of them--not just the ones you think you'll use.
• Find out which of the latest technology features are gaining the broadest favor with consumers and which ones may take some time to be perfected.
• Research the differences between the Premium and Non-Premium brands you're considering, especially if you're comparing the various models from a particular automaker, to determine whether the Premium vehicle is worth the higher price.

About the Study

The APEAL Study is used extensively by manufacturers worldwide to help them design and develop more appealing vehicles and by consumers to help them in their purchase decisions. It complements the J.D. Power Initial Quality StudySM (IQS), which focuses on problems experienced by owners during the first 90 days of ownership. The 2015 U.S. APEAL Study is based on responses gathered between February and May 2015 from more than 84,000 purchasers and lessees of new 2015 model-year cars and light trucks who were surveyed after 90 days of ownership.


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