A study by automotive consulting company AutoPacific turns out some interesting results about TRUE customer satisfaction. It is one thing to say that a new car performs satisfactorily for your own use, but according to the results of this survey, a vehicle has to perform in all sorts of other ways for a customer to feel comfortable recommending the car to their friends.
It makes sense. If you are going to recommend a car to a friend, you’d better REALLY like it. There aren’t many ways that would be more effective in turning a friendship sour than someone close to you resenting your automotive input into their new car. The top vote-getters in 25 categories are listed below.
The study was based on a survey on recommendation intentions of 25,000 new vehicle owners who bought or leased new cars or light trucks from September last year to the end of 2008. The first question on the survey, was: “Would you recommend your new vehicle to a friend or relative?,” with scores based on responses that ranged from “Yes, definitely” to “Yes, with reservations” to “No.”
Highest Satisfaction Brand: Cadillac
Despite perceptions to the contrary, GM is capable of turning out a quality product. And in the case of Cadillac, consistently too. Those that are unconvinced need look no further than the CTS-V. How bankruptcy effects GM’s luxury brand when this survey rolls around next year remains to be seen. But at least for the time being, Caddie is King.
2009 Rising Star: Hyundai
This award is the equivalent to the “Comeback Player Of The Year Award.” Getting better, just not the best. At any rate, confirming the rebirth of Korea’s number one automaker, Hyundai jumped 11 spots compared to last year’s result. The brand also earned a higher position in 40 of the 48 categories buyers were asked to rate. More good news was heaped upon Hyundai in two individual awards below.
Premium Luxury Car – Lexus LS
As the flagship sedan of Lexus and in some ways, that of parent company Toyota, the newest LS bears the burden of some mighty big reputations to live up to. Which for 2009 it handles with ease. Not only does it offer Toyota’s legendary reliability and unsurpassed quality of construction, but it surpasses most of its competitors in both luxury amenities and price. That makes it a smart choice on all fronts.
Aspirational Luxury Car – Hyundai Genesis
The 2009 North American Car of the Year winner also takes home this award, which sounds somewhat condescending at first glance. Like, “I’m dating a beauty pageant winner.” “Oh yeah? Where is she from?” (long pause) “South Dakota…” Likewise, perhaps someday people won’t say, “It’s a really great car. Especially considering it’s a Hyundai.” If ever a car could change people’s attitudes, the 2009 Genesis may be it. And yes, you get luxury car performance for 20-grand less.
Luxury Large Car – Lincoln Town Car
Well there’s no accounting for taste. Or the vast network of Town Car lovers still alive to vote it to the top of this category. Despite the fact that both mechanically and stylistically it may as well come with a built-in walker, the Town Car takes home this year’s “luxury Large Car” award. It still has body-on-frame construction for cryin’ out loud! In defense of Lincoln/Ford, they found a market of buyers and have given them exactly what they wanted, which in this case is seating for 6, yacht-like driving characteristics, and a trunk big enough to stow anybody Joe Pesci may need to bury in the woods. Why meddle with perfection? State Troopers and ex-Marine retirees from Florida rejoice.
Luxury Mid-Size Car – Lexus ES
It may technically be an entry-level luxury sedan, but you’d never know it. Well, unless you’ve read our review. Like everything Lexus, the ES 350 makes it look easy with a smooth ride, decadent interior and that ‘ole chestnut; Toyota quality. This is the car for those that want driving to be as peaceful and stress-free as possible. Those that want white-knuckle, change your underwear motoring adventures should look elsewhere.
Premium Mid-Size Car – Hyundai Sonata
You could make the argument that the Sonata, and not the Genesis, was the first to prove Hyundai had “all grows up.” The automotive leap from the Sonata to Genesis is not nearly as impressive as the one Hyundai pulled off when the Sonata came on the scene. And with a tough set of contenders in the mid-size family sedan segment nonetheless. Updates for 2009 include a revised interior and improved engines. It may have targeted Honda and Toyota initially, now the Sonata deserves an equal seat at that table.
Mid-Size Car – Ford Fusion
Honestly, did anyone think Ford could pull off a car like this? Five years ago it would have seemed ridiculous given their mismanagement sins of the past. (ie: Killing off the Taurus, letting Volvo whither and die, etc…) But thanks to the adoption of some sporty Mazda6 technology, Ford has managed to eliminate most excuses for not buying a mid-size ‘Merican car. For 2009, the fusion gets even more standard features and options including stability control, plus Ford’s Sync system and all-wheel drive at an affordable price point. Have you driven a Ford lately inDEED.
Image Compact Car – Toyota Prius
The trendy shine of the Prius has lost a bit of luster since every Tom, Dick, and Harry began turning out hybrids. So it is a testament to the quality of the current Prius that they remain at the top of this category. It’s like when every woman in Hollywood was “bi.” It sort of dilutes the uniqueness of the whole thing you know? But for those that want to drive as much of an everyday appliance as possible, the Prius is just about perfect. Not that it became one of the most fuel-efficient vehicles by accident. Through a combination of high-tech tomfoolery and its uniquely shaped body, the gas-sipping Prius is actually as roomy as many much larger cars. Like it or not, in time, the Prius may become the worlds new VW Bug.
Compact Car – Mitsubishi Lancer
Kudos to Mitsubishi for perpetually putting forth their best efforts despite their virtually anonymity here in the States. It would be hard to think of an automaker that is any more underrated among the mainstream public than Mitsubishi. As a refreshing alternative to the compact drones that litter the streets the Lancer proclaims, “I drive a compact car, but I have a personality!” For 2009, Mitsubishi responds with some performance upgrades to match the car’s outgoing exterior style. As is typical of the entire Mitsubishi clan, the Lancer provides an all-you-can-eat buffet of handling and high-tech equipment, all wrapped up in an inexpensive and expressive body.
Economy Car – Honda Fit
Redesigned for 2009, the larger and sportier Fit plays up Honda’s notoriously high ability to retain its own value. Although fuel efficiency suffers compared to the previous version, the already utility-blessed Fit increases interior capacity by nearly 1.5 inches for rear passengers. By way of a minor increase in horsepower and a stiffer chassis, the Fit also comes across with a more spirited driving experience for occupants and is a perpetual nominee for most “Best” awards.
Sports Car – Porsche 911
The quest to perfect the 911 must be maddeningly difficult given its longevity as a brand. But that sort of attention to improvement is why it leaps to people’s minds as the perfect sports car, and why its tight-knit group of owners have not surprisingly voted it to the top of this category. The 2009 is the best 911 yet with further improvements over the previous model to a number of areas including the suspension, brakes, and interior. It’s the best, until the next 911 is built that is.
Sporty Car – Scion tC
Affordability matched with attractive styling is a recipe that Scion has managed to mix well with the 2009 tC. It doesn’t hurt that their marketing department makes driving small, cheap cars look like the coolest thing since clear Pepsi. But unlike the latter’s crappy aftertaste, the tC comes with an upscale stereo, a usable back seat and an endless amount of customizability. For an under 20-grand coupe, what more could you ask for?
Large Pickup – Dodge Ram 1500
Lurking under its traditional Dodge styled exterior, the 2009 Ram 1500 is simply the most comfortable riding pickup out there. As it turns out, not all full-size pickups have to have leaf-spring rear suspensions. If its the Ram 1500 it can use a heavy-duty coil rear suspension that as an added benefit to its improved ride, saves weight and improves off-road performance. It’s one of those having and eating your cake situations. Other improvements for this year include a better Hemi V8 and an improved interior.
Compact Pickup – Ford Explorer Sport Trac
This is a bit of a head-scratcher if you remember how awful the reviews of the first Sport Trac were. However, only two main complaints remain though for 2009. The first is the smaller than normal truck bed, a problem that goes hand-in-hand with the increased interior capacity. Call that a draw as it is not exactly something that can be “fixed” in its current configuration. The second grumble is with the V6 engine-equipped version that get LESS fuel efficiency than the V8. (Sort of defeats the purpose) Those issues aside, the interior is comfortable, towing capacity is on point and safety scores are some of the highest in this segment. For 2009, the Explorer Sport Trac receives standard satellite radio and available heated leather seats and heated side mirrors. Despite the smaller truck bed, the reality is that most people in SUVs would be better served by the flexibility of having the open bed option to haul all of their crap. Which makes the the Explorer Sport Trac, what most SUVs only pretend to be. The total package.
Luxury Sport Utility – Cadillac Escalade
For better-or-worse the gold standard in XL luxury SUVs is the Escalade, so its success in securing this top spot on this list is not a shock. In terms of utility, it certainly holds its own with seating for eight and enough power to tow pretty much anything. But it is a thirsty mule, if less so in 2009 than in prior years. The Escalade’s 400 horsepower 6.2 liter V8 engine now comes with cylinder deactivation, a system that shuts down four of the engines cylinders when they’re not needed to help save fuel. If you want to save even more gas, a Escalade Hybrid is also available. Inside, the Cadillac is not exactly cutting edge in the luxury crowd, but it is comfortable with the prerequisite leather and wood styled finishes that are standard on all upper-crust vehicles.
Large Sport Utility – Chevrolet Tahoe
Chevy corners the large SUV market on this list with the Tahoe, which like the Escalade provides a butt-load of seating and towing power, albeit without the bling of the Cadillac. Chevy does produce a hybrid, but don’t expect anything but truck-like performance from this rig in any version. The fact that it is basically the same vehicle that has been produced for at least 3 model years is an indication of Chevy’s belief that they have the large SUV formula just about right. Owners must believe so too.
Premium Mid-Size Sport Utility – Ford Explorer
The Explorer continues to be a solid money-maker for Ford despite the general consumer exodus from SUVs. It isn’t exactly the most modern of vehicles however. In fact, if you dropped it into Jurassic Park it would probably fit easily in with its older ancestors. But at least Ford has made it a slightly more quiet and refined vehicle for 2009. Highlights include seven-passenger seating and a power-folding 3rd-row seat. Never fear, it is definitely all truck with not even a hint of the crossover stink on its breath.
Mid-Size Sport Utility – Jeep Liberty
Perhaps the best compliment of the 2009 Jeep Liberty is that it has exorcised most of the demons from the original, which ranks right up there with the Compass as our least favorite Jeep of all time. The Liberty does the slotted-grille crowd proud with excellent off-road capabilities and style that seems in sync with the rest of the brand. Most unique is the Liberty’s Sky Slider full-length canvas roof whose durability is the only question mark. The Liberty is at best endurable on the road and as a daily commuter, but in terms of making a trek out into reasonably wild environs, the Liberty is up to the task.
Luxury Crossover SUV – Land Rover LR2
Land Rover squeaks onto this list with the 2009 LR2. To be fair, the LR2 is an indication of the companies continued efforts in improving. But its inclusion by owners flies in the face of the fact that the vehicle ranks dead last out of all luxury compact SUVs. Around here we love Land Rover for what it was and what it could be again. We actually think the LR2 is a strikingly good looking vehicle, perhaps the most attractive of the bunch. But anyone that thinks new Land Rovers are a prudent buy are out of their minds. They may continue to be good off-road vehicles, but reliability (a slightly important aspect we think), is awful. Hopefully now that their production facilities are out of the Cold War-era and with new ownership they will produce a car worthy of being on this list through performance, and not just name dropping.
Large Crossover SUV – Mazda CX-9
If we must comment on the crossover segment, we will. But in addition to Hannah Montana, one thing we hate are “tweeners.” It’s a truck, it’s a car, it’s a van, it’s an Aztek. And whether you admit it or not, crossovers are just a couple of chromosomes away from morphing into THAT un-holy vehicle. However, if you need to transport lots of people, and can trick yourself into thinking that it is anything other than a gussied up minivan or wagon, the Mazda CX-9 may be a good choice. It’s inclusion is a sign that at least others feel that way anyway. On a more positive note, out of this segment the CX-9 is the only one with a V6. At least that’s something.
Premium Mid-Size Crossover SUV – Toyota Venza
(sigh) Round 2. Ready? Based on the Camry, according to Toyota, “the Venza provides ALL the comforts of a sedan with the functionality of an SUV.” So its a car. Except it handles like a bad car because it has the proportions of something approaching an SUV. Of course compared to an SUV it can’t tow anything of significance or go off-road. So its a bad car or a bad SUV, except its neither of those things because it is a crossover. And as such it is WONDERFUL! So congrats Toyota. You take home top honors in the most irrelevant category.
Mid-Size Crossover SUV – Volkswagen Tiguan
We choose, largely because we like it, to think of the Tiguan as more of a compact sport utility than crossover. And if you think we are being hypocritical given our disdain for the aforementioned crossover segments above, ask yourself if you really believe that the Tiguan belongs in the same class as the CX-9 or Venza. For one, it actually looks like something we wouldn’t be embarrassed to drive. Secondly, it provides the same power as the GTI, another favorite of ours. Taking it off of anything but dry pavement is not advised, but it does come with 4Motion all-wheel drive. A diesel engine version here in the U.S. would only strengthen its legitimacy to be on this list.
Compact Crossover SUV – Kia Sportage
If anything at least the Kia is more affordable than its competitors. In fact the same could be said for the entire Kia lineup which boasts quality materials and a base price that is thousands less than competitors. You can imagine how difficult it would be to supplant perennial favorites, RAV4 and CR-V, so the Sportage has pulled off a bit of an upset here. Or their buyers have that is. It would be hard to say that the Sportage is better than the other two in most areas, but it does make it interesting and at least deserves consideration by new buyers. Especially for the price.
Minivan – Toyota Sienna
We can only imagine the anguish of those that have to drive a minivan as their main mode of transportation. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. But if you have to, the Sienna at least cushions the pain a little by offering a comfortable, and powerful, minivan option. Those that drive a Sienna have a need for passenger and cargo room, (no one would otherwise drive a minivan willingly), and the Sienna provides these things in great amounts with seating for up to 8 and nearly 150 cubic feet of space.
The vehicle that gained the most satisfied customers in the last year was the Lexus LS series sedan, which leaped up past the average by 99 points. Top truck or SUV honors in the same category went to the Cadillac Escalade.
Being that automotive taste is so personal, it could be argued that the more “middle-of-the-road” a car is, the better the odds that it may be recommended. As opposed to very unique vehicles aimed at specific segment of the populace. Nevertheless, the results of this study are a good place to start for those in the market for a new ride.