Hyundai gets another feather for cap

TOKYO -- No sooner had Hyundai achieved top-notch quality and reliability marks than it scored big in another key area where it long lagged: brand appeal.

The South Korean automaker surged in this year's Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study by J.D. Power and Associates. Hyundai was the most improved brand, jumping to No. 15 in the rankings released this week , from 28 in 2010.

More telling still: Hyundai's top-line Equus luxury sedan was honored as the highest ranked model in the large premium car category, besting the runners-up -- BMW's 7 series and the Audi A8.

In fact, the Equus was the highest performing model in the entire study. Meanwhile, the Sonata sedan and Tucson crossover were also tapped as a top-three entrant in their segments.

The Equus is helping Hyundai gain more positive appeal with U.S. shoppers, according to a new study.

The APEAL Study examines how gratifying a new vehicle is to own and drive based on owner evaluations of more than 80 vehicle attributes. Nailing high scores in the mushy area of brand perception and soft quality is a kind of final frontier for Hyundai as it raises its brand status.

While Hyundai is a regular top performer in Power's quality and reliability studies, executives in Seoul bemoan the fact that public perception hasn't kept pace with the improvements.

But image may soon be another bragging point. The latest study results show it's catching up.

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