Hyundai nabs a win in J.D. Power APEAL Study a month after leading IQS

The Equus was Hyundai's top-rated car in the APEAL Study.

UPDATED: 7/23/14 2:18 pm ET -- adds Jaguar comments

For the first time, Hyundai is the top-ranked nonpremium brand in J.D. Power and Associates’ measure of new-car appeal -- a month after leading nonpremium brands in the company’s Initial Quality Study.

Hyundai is the first brand to rank highest among nonpremium brands in the Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout Study and IQS in the same year.

The APEAL Study, now in its 19th year, measures how gratifying a new vehicle is to own and drive.

After the first 90 days of ownership, more than 86,000 purchasers and lessees judged their new 2014 model year vehicles across 77 attributes, which are combined into an overall APEAL score that is measured on a 1,000 point scale. The higher the score, the better.

Hyundai’s 804 score was keyed by its strong performances in the audio, communication, entertainment and navigation categories.

“Their controls tend to be more intuitive than some of their competition,” said Renee Stephens, vice president of U.S. automotive at J.D. Power, in an interview. Hyundai models “tend to score about 13 index points higher than their segment average.”

Customers have responded well to Hyundai’s additions of safety features such as collision alert, Stephens said, adding that people are “pleasantly surprised” with the storage and space offered in its models.

Hyundai won the small-car segment with the Accent (782). The brand’s overall score also was bolstered with the rising mid-sized Sonata (819), which improved 22 points.

“We expect the all-new 2015 Sonata to do even better next year,” said Mike O’Brien, vice president of corporate and product planning at Hyundai Motor America, in a statement.

Hyundai cleared the nonpremium average (785) by 19 points, with a 12-point rise from 2013. It was followed by last year’s leader Ram (800), Volkswagen (796), Mini (795) and Buick (792).

Porsche (882) scored best in the premium category, and overall, for the 10th consecutive year after outpacing the premium average (840) by 42 points.

Jaguar (862), on the strength of its freshly launched F-Type, moved up six spots to second place after a 23-point improvement -- the largest gain of any brand.

Audi (858) ranked third, Land Rover (853) remained in fourth with an unchanged score and BMW (849) lost 5 points to fall to the fifth spot from third in 2013.

"It's a great achievement for the fourth generation Range Rover to be ranked highest in its segment for the second year in a row and for the Jaguar brand to rank 2nd overall for both IQS and APEAL in the same year," said Joe Eberhardt, President and CEO, Jaguar Land Rover North America, in a statement. "This underscores the investment being made to innovation and engineering across both the Jaguar and Land Rover product portfolio and the company's commitment to manufacturing desirable cars that meet customers' expectations."

The Audi A8 (893) was the top-scoring vehicle, while the Chevrolet Corvette (890) came in fourth overall to lead domestic models.

The Audi A8 tied with the Mercedes-Benz S class for highest-ranked model.

Tech and fuel economy

J.D. Power’s findings show that while automakers are packing new cars with more technologies and functionality, owner satisfaction with those models isn’t much greater than that of consumers with carryover products. New and redesigned models scored 805 compared with 791 for carryovers.

Consumers are pleased with the increasing fuel economy and interior styling that comes with new and redesigned releases, and the scores in those areas show a clear separation between new and carryover models to indicate improvement.

For instance, fuel economy was almost 5 percent better than carryovers, scoring 7.07 out of 10 compared with 6.75, Stephens said.

Newer models, however, didn’t create the same separation from carryovers in categories dealing with usefulness of controls and functions for navigation, voice recognition and other technology features.

The ease of using voice recognition, for example, scored 7.37 in new vehicles as opposed to 7.34 for carryovers. And ease of use for navigation systems rose to 7.56 for new models vs. 7.5 for carryovers.

Scores fall

Ram and Cadillac had the steepest point drops, slipping slightly in the rankings.

The Ram 1500, the brand’s top-selling product, didn’t score as well in 2014 and carried the brand with it, Stephens said. The 1500 (804) still landed above the nonpremium and industry average (794).

Cadillac was aided by the new CTS, which made up about 20 percent of the brand’s sales volume, Stephens said. But its score was hampered by the backsliding ATS, which dropped 36 points, and the SRX, which fell 19 points.

Carryover gains

Brands with new-vehicle launches tend to attract higher scores that are fueled by the excitement of consumers, Stephens said.

Models typically garner their highest scores during launch years and drop off as they age. Yet that trend is being bucked by several carryover models that refuse to leave the stage.

She pointed to the Hyundai Accent, Dodge Challenger and Charger — all segment winners — as older models with staying power.

Automakers are boosting the lifespans of their products with technology and interior refreshes, Stephens said.

“A customer’s positive experiences with good quality lead to greater satisfaction, loyalty and the likelihood an owner will recommend their vehicle to friends and family,” said Doug Betts, Chrysler Group’s senior vice president of quality. “Personal recommendations are the most powerful type.”

The Challenger (840), which is being overhauled for the 2015 model year, saw its score jump 21 points to lead the mid-sized sporty car segment for the third time in four years.

The Charger (851) improved 7 points, beating out the newer Chevrolet SS (842) and Kia Cadenza (835) in the large-car category for the fourth consecutive year.

“Companies are now starting to do technology refreshes. Instead of doing a whole vehicle refresh, they’re starting to refresh system by system a lot more than in the past. Or they look at an all-new interior,” Stephens said.

She added, “They’re looking at putting new options and features into the vehicles. Customers are appreciating it.”

You can reach Vince Bond Jr. at -- Follow Vince on Twitter: @VinceBond86

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